Pink plaque for hidden history of feminist Wollstonecraft

Lesser-known personal side to feminist writer is honoured by council project

Friday, 13th August 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Mary Woolstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

A PINK plaque is set to be unveiled paying homage to the 18th- century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft – and her somewhat hidden LGBTQ history.

The council-run project is organising a trail of 50 plaques to honour important places and people that are part of the borough’s LGBTQ+ history. Last week, the Tribune reported how the old Traid club night at Turnmills was in line for one.

Although some may not be aware of her personal history, Ms Wollstonecraft – the author of A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman – has also made the trail.

The plaque will be unveiled next month near to Newington Green Primary School in Matthias Road, originally a girls’ school set up by Wollstonecraft in 1784.

Letters written by Ms Wollstonecraft with Jane Arden and Fanny Blood revealed passionate relationships beyond the boundaries of friendship.

She also had an affair with artist Henry Fuseli and asked for a polyamorous relationship involving his wife.

Amy Todd, the programme manager at the Newington Green Meeting House, where Ms Wollstonecraft would attend meetings, said: “Mary is such a formidable character. You can look at Mary in terms of her relationship with abolition, you can look at her relationship when it comes to feminism, anarchism or education. She’s such a polymath that that part of her personal life gets missed.”

Amy Todd

Ms Todd added: “Wollstonecraft had quite a difficult life in terms of attempted suicides, lost children and her mental health was terrible.

“I think maybe her accomplishments, probably quite rightly, overshadowed her personal life and part of her personal life is this very fluid sexuality that she had, especially for that time.”

A sculpture was unveiled in Newington Green in Ms Wollstonecraft’s honour last year, although it received mixed reviews.

The pink plaque will be unveiled September 19 in conjunction with an exhibition by the Gay Liberation Front at the Newington Green Meeting House.

Ms Todd added: “I think that in the kind of current political climate that we’re in, with this rise of right-wing fascism, it’s really important to honour these stories that are important to hear, so that people who are suffering in the queer community get some kind of strength from that.”

She added: “It is important to know that these people and stories have existed and it’s not anything new, even though it can often feel like there is a focus on oppressing certain groups.

“I hope that it cements the fact that Islington is very proud of this queer heritage and we’re very proud of that part of Mary’s life. Just like many parts of Mary’s life, she opened up things so that we can live in a much more open, flexible way today.

“When the opportunity came up for the plaque, we thought it would be brilliant as it is part of Mary’s life that people don’t often know about.”

She said the meeting house was proud to be involved with the plaque scheme due in part to its own chapter in Islington’s LGBTQ+ history. Andy Pakula, non-religious minister at the Newington Green Meeting House, refused to hold marriage ceremonies in the building until same-sex marriage was made legal in 2011.

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